Bernick Mug 01

Unless something pretty amazing happens, it appears to me that former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman will not meet the required 28,000 verified registered Republican signatures by the Monday 5 p.m. deadline.

And if so, then his only path to the Republican nomination, via a late-June closed GOP primary, is to be one of the top two candidates coming out of a late-April Republican delegate convention.

As of Thursday evening, Huntsman had 22,171 verified signatures, or short 5,829. It’s possible he could make it; but in my mind, unlikely.

Can he come out of the convention?

Well, he certainly has a lot of support among rank-and-file GOP voters, various polls show.

A new UtahPolicy.com/KUTV 2 News survey by Y2 Analytics shows Huntsman with 33 percent support among likely GOP primary voters -- all of them registered Republicans.

Huntsman sits behind Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in the new survey. Cox has 40 percent support among registered Republicans likely to vote in the primary.

But Cox is already on the ballot via signature gathering, certified to the primary by the Utah Elections Office, which is overseen by Cox. I see nothing wrong with that -- Cox has officially stepped aside from any elections issues that directly involve his candidacy. Election Office folks are honest people.

I’ve opined before -- both in this column and in the Bernick and Schott On Politics podcast -- that Cox’s boss, retiring GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, should either extend the candidate signature deadline of next Monday or put all candidates on their respective party’s primary ballot through an emergency executive order.

Clearly Herbert could do that, more than 15 states have postponed their primary election dates this year because of the coronavirus. And Herbert has, in essence, required Utahns to stay indoors -- thus stopping/hindering the normal signature-gathering process.

So, Herbert owes something to the candidates who have tried to gather signatures after his emergency orders took place. (He did issue a relaxed, technical signature-gathering order, which basically does little.)

There may well be lawsuits over all of this -- and expect those to be filed next week, seeking their candidates/plaintiffs’ placement on the primary ballot.

Our new Y2 polling shows Huntsman with 33 percent support among registered GOP voters likely to cast ballots in the closed party primary.

There are, according to Cox’s office, 682,588 registered Republicans in Utah.

A third of that is 225,254 Utah GOP rank-and-file voters whose first choice is Huntsman.

That’s more than all of the registered Democrats in the state (185,957).

And it’s more than half of all of the independents (officially “unaffiliated” voters) in the state (511,609).

If the 4,000 or so GOP state delegates who will vote on the gubernatorial candidates in convention really reflected the preferences of rank-and-file Republican voters, then Huntsman would be OK.

He and Cox would come out of the convention to face each other (and former GOP chairman Thomas Wright, who also gathered enough signatures to make the June Republican primary).

But the delegates are anything BUT reflective of regular GOP voters -- with study after study, poll after poll -- showing over the years that delegates are much more conservative than regular Republicans at-large.

Remember, the 2020 state GOP convention must be held online -- and there may well be issues about voting.

In addition, because the mid-March neighborhood GOP caucuses were canceled, the 2018 GOP state delegates are just being pushed over into the upcoming convention.

And there are already problems/complaints that many of the delegates -- perhaps as many as 20 percent -- can’t be reached by the candidates. They have moved, or the state party doesn’t have valid emails for them, or the delegates really don’t want to serve again and so are just not responding to candidate solicitations.

If it’s true -- as history shows -- that hard-core right-wingers like to serve as delegates and will show up at convention, then a “mainstream” GOP candidate like Huntsman (who is already sharing some “mainstream” delegates with Cox) could be in real trouble in trying to finish in the top two.

So, there is a very real possibility that if Huntsman doesn’t get the 28,000 verified GOP signatures come Monday night, then he may well NOT come out of the conservative GOP convention.

And then right off the bat in 2020 -- mostly because Huntsman’s campaign didn’t do a good job of signature gathering, but also because Herbert refused to get involved in making significant changes to our election process post coronavirus -- a quarter of a million Republican voters WILL NOT get a chance to vote for their favorite candidate for governor.

By the way, Huntsman also gets 33 percent support from independent voters who “lean Republican,” and so may likely register as Republicans and vote in the June closed party primary. So, they will not get a chance to vote for Huntsman, either.

In a Democracy -- at least supposedly -- this, in my mind, is unacceptable.

Very poor showing, all around.

Herbert may have more important stuff on his coronavirus plate today. I understand that.

But come November, with a quarter of all GOP voters basically disenfranchised in the governor’s race, there could be some real serious questions asked of the governor -- who supports Cox.

We’ll see how this all plays out over the next few weeks -- as Utah politics continue despite the serious coronavirus outbreak.